Drought Conditions Improve in Northern California, U.S. Says

  • NOAA says spring may be warmer than normal for much of U.S.
  • No widespread flooding seen because of low U.S. snowpack

Drought conditions may fade in Northern California while dryness remains in the San Joaquin Valley and the southern and central parts of the state through June, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The rain and snow that piled up across Northern California in the past few months, spurred on by an El Nino, won’t be enough to wipe the drought out completely, said Rob Hartman of the California Nevada River Forecast Center in Sacramento, an agency within NOAA’s National Weather Service.

“It is going to take multiple years; there are certainly areas in the state that will be ameliorated with this winter, but statewide it is going to take a while,” Hartman said on a conference call with reporters Thursday. “The state will declare when the drought is over. That isn’t something NOAA does. But I don’t see it anytime soon.”

Hartman’s comments came as U.S. weather agencies released their outlook for temperatures, precipitation and flooding in April through June.

California Dryness

California is in its fifth year of drought, with 99.6 percent of the land either abnormally dry or worse, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor in Lincoln, Nebraska. The state was one to two years behind normal rainfall at the start of this year’s wet season last fall.

Hartman said rainfall and snow patterns didn’t follow those from past years when there was a weather-changing El Nino in the equatorial Pacific. During many of those, precipitation was heaviest in Southern California.

The shift in the pattern probably helped California, because many of the state’s largest reservoirs are in the north where snow has piled up in the mountains, Hartman said.

“If we had our choice, from a water manager’s perspective, it is far better to get it in the north,” Hartman said.

For the U.S. as a whole, a mild winter and very little snowpack means most of the nation probably won’t face widespread flooding this spring, said Thomas Graziano, acting director of NOAA’s National Water Center.

Moderate Flooding

The areas that are susceptible to moderate flooding are along the southern Mississippi River and in eastern Texas and across the U.S. Southeast. There is a chance for minor flooding across the entire Mississippi basin, in northern Maine and along the Humboldt River in Nevada.

Parts of the U.S. South from Texas to Mississippi have experienced major flooding from heavy rains last week, Graziano said. While rivers in most locations have crested, those in western Louisiana will keep rising for a few more days.

“Another low-pressure system will bring additional showers and thunderstorms,” he said. “This additional rainfall should not have a significant impact on ongoing flooding.”

Warmer-than-normal temperatures across the eastern and western portions of the U.S., as well as along the Canadian border, are likely through June. The highest chances for warmer readings are in the U.S. Northeast and Pacific Northwest, according to the Climate Prediction Center.

Forecasters aren’t certain how the central U.S. will fare, and there is a greater probability for cooler-than-normal weather across much of Texas.

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